Flair, imagination and hard graft will guarantee a great garden; a sackload of money will not. This is the encouraging news if funds are limited and your garden is begging for a major makeover.
© GAP Photos/Elke Borkowski
Instead of flinging thousands of pounds at the borders, fling some timber cleaner on the decking and stain the boards walnut if they look patchy.
Pressure-clean the paving stones on the patio - once a year is enough. Repair the fences. You will be staggered at the difference a thorough r’n’r - repair and renovation - will make, and you can then see clearly what needs work where.
If you long for a limestone or travertine floor, settle for facsimiles of reconstituted stone, which get better every year.
Give budget paving stones a touch of class by insetting with the occasional paver of fake ammonites, or pull up a paving stone here and there and replace with creeping thyme to soften the hard lines and give the garden a sense of age. If the patio is past it and you can’t afford to replace the flooring, do as I did and throw down a ton or two of Cotswold-pale small stones: instant Provence, for pence.
Budget gardeners never pass a skip without peeking in; many a York stone languishing in a skip has been given fresh life. Visit www.salvo.co.uk, which lists recyling sites and has an information exchange that details leftover landscape materials in your area. There are big bargains to be had.
- © GAP photos/John Glover/Design: Lindsey Knight
- © GAP Photos/Jerry Harpur/Design: Christopher Bradley
- © GAP Photos/Jerry Harpur/Design: Richard Hartlage
'Machine-made terracotta pots, cheap as chips from garden centres, can be brightened with a lick of paint'
Disparate features and furniture make a garden look messy. Unify them by giving them the same colour, whether made of metal or wood. Cuprinol’s Rich Berry in the Heritage Shades range is a classy dull plum stain that will transform faded fences and timber raised beds, and you could paint a metal seat plus the watering can with Hammerite’s Garage Door Paint in Burgundy.
Liven up a dull corner with an inexpensive wooden arbour or pergola kit. This will look OK au naturel but will sing out when painted one strong, sure colour. The garden shed, painted purple, will take on the status of a garden retreat; make it a pretty one, too, by planting a lavender clematis such as Lasurstern to clamber up the walls. Machine-made terracotta pots, cheap as chips from garden centres, can be brightened with a lick of emulsion paint.
Invest in a few key plants to pull the whole space together. Consider an outsize agave or silver-leaved astelia in an imposing urn to make a superb focal point; a group of multi-stemmed silver birch trees to form the basis for a woodland patch; one full-foliaged olive tree to trigger a Mediterranean lavender-filled landscape.
Join your local horticultural society. No longer the domain of only older people, they offer chances to swap plants and seeds, buy in bulk cheaply and grab giveaways. I recently received an email from a member of my local club requesting a good home for 25 stipa grasses. I was happy to oblige.
© GAP Photos/Suzie Gibbons
You can fill a border for a few pounds by sowing from seed. My towering Mount Etna broom started from a tiny seed sown in autumn. Sow a packet of sweet peas now and you can be picking them all next summer, whatever the weather, as I’ve been doing. Invest in a propagator with a heated base and you can grow many more plants and save a fortune.
If you have a friend with a well-planted garden, wander around with a pair of small scissors and a plastic bag and snip cuttings of whatever takes your fancy. Not all will work but enough will, and encourage you to take more.
Box is the mainstay of any garden, cottage or contemporary: cuttings couldn’t be easier. Just cut off short lengths right now, trim off the lower leaves and prod into compost. Wait until spring and you can use the babies to form the framework of a knot garden.
When you do buy plants, choose those with staying power that deliver great value. Groundcover geraniums are indispensable but plant popular variety Johnson’s Blue and you will have flowers for only a few weeks.
Plant variety Russell Prichard, a shocking-pink beauty, and you will have blooms for six months. If you buy a rose, make sure it flowers successionally, such as ice-pink classic The Fairy.
Bulbs make a big splash for little outlay. Plant those that naturalise, such as narcissi, so for a bag of bulbs, you can, in time, fill a border with flowers.
© GAP photos/Elke Borkowski
For summer impact, plant Allium sphaerocephalon; the bulbs cost next to nothing. The wands of this fabulous ornamental onion add blackcurrant blobs through the borders that somehow work with everything.
Above all, use your imagination to give your garden its own style. Take risks. You truly can make a big impact for little outlay. Paint a sky-blue backdrop, scatter navy slate down the garden path, plant only white flowers and you will have a garden to die for.
The budget gardener’s bible
Cuprinol: 0870 444 1111; www.cuprinol.co.uk
Hammerite: 0870 444 1111; www.hammerite.co.uk
Paving stones: 0845 820 5000; www.marshalls.co.uk
Ammonite-patterned paving stones: 02476 518700; www.stonemarket.co.uk
Chilterns Seeds: 01229 581137; www.chilternseeds.co.uk
Jacques Amand Bulbs: 020 8420 7110; www.jacquesamand.com